DEVELOP HIGHER TASTE - PART 1
Consider this. Why is it that we are quick to understand the complicated plots and intrigues, the twist and turns, of a thriller but are dull and slow to respond to far simpler spiritual truths and insights? Or, to put it differently, why do simple spiritual truths strike us as irksomely complicated?
Why do we read with great eagerness and concentration the crimes and violent events reported by the newspapers? And, why do we neglect the editorials, lead articles or whatever reports there are of what is good and constructive happening in our society? Why do we, by doing so, encourage media editors and proprietors to sideline the good and showcase the bad, to our own detriment?
How come people with proven records in crime and corruption get elected routinely whereas the voters disown honest candidates, even as they continue to clamor for good governance?
Why does St. Paul urge us to set our minds on things high? Or, for that matter, why does the Psalmist urge s, "O, taste and see that the Lord is good'?
We develop a taste for what we taste. To taste the Lord, therefore, is to develop godly tastes: to take a practical interest in the Person, purpose and priorities of God. It is, in the words of Jesus, to seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33), which is the authentic spiritual taste.
There is a two-fold test by which we can find out if we have developed this taste, or are in the process of doing so. First, we become increasingly clear about the Will of God very complicated. This is because they do not "taste and see" God, or attain any intimacy with Him. To 'See' God without 'tasting' Him is to turn Him into a religious spectacle. Intimacy is the necessary medium for spiritual knowledge. God cannot be known as an object, from a distance, intellectually. He may be known only by abiding in Him and His abiding in us, which is a state of spiritual intimacy free from alienation. Alienation causes distortion, inhibition and confusion. Jesus invites us to be intimate with Him and, through Him, with our Heavenly Father. This refines and redefines our tastes.
Second, to those who have godly tastes, doing the Will of God becomes natural and joyful. They do not have to strain after it; nor do they have to be coaxed, cajoled or coerced into it. Nor do they find the cost in doing so too much to pay. Jesus is our role model in this. To Him, doing His father's will was 'food and drink'. It was a joyful and satisfying thing for Him. He 'hungered and thirsted' after practicing God's righteousness. This is the hallmark of godly tastes, or true godliness. As a rule, we do not have to be compelled to do what we have a taste for; instead doing it becomes joyful, even irresistible. So it was with Jesus in respect of doing the will of His Father. Even the Cross could not hold Him back from doing God's will for Him concerning the world. This inward spiritual craving is the unmistakable proof that we have godly tastes.
All these prove the decisive importance of taste-formation. The foremost challenge before the Church today lies in this direction. In a world aggressively eager to inject worldly tastes into everyone, especially the youth, how are we to enable them to imbibe godly tastes?
Perhaps the youth to the dynamics of taste-formation is a practical starting point.
Consider this; we insist that young people should attend the Sunday worship. We even tell them, less frequently though, that Christianity is a communitarian faith and that it cannot be practiced adequately by individuals who live for themselves and in isolation from the life and mission of the faith community. But we never tell them why it is important to participate in Church life; nor do we design church life in the light of this purpose. Rigid and authoritarian routine holds unrelenting sway in this respect.
One of the crucial reasons why everyone needs the spiritual nourishment of church life is that this is one of the most important avenues for forming godly tastes. That is so, at least in theory and intention; but it is doubtful if this is the case in practice. The local congregation is meant to be a tangible manifestation of the Kingdom. Its life is meant to be such that those who are nurtured in it imbibe the values and norms of the Kingdom. Everyone should be able to 'taste and see' that God is good and the Kingdom of God is tangible, lived reality. It is the duty of those who insist on church attendance on Sundays the custodians of church life - to be mindful of this. When church life slides away from the purpose of cultivating a taste for biblical ideals, values and norms, mere authoritarian insistence on Sunday attendance is likely to exasperate people, especially the youth. We need to ask if church life, as of today, fosters godly tastes in them or infects them with tastes contrary to the Gospel culture. Contradictions exasperate. It is more sensible to eradiate contradictions than to suppress exasperations.
This brings us to an issue of utmost importance: the need for a partnership between church and home, between priests and parents. Home and church are the two foremost influences on human formation. There should be a harmony and continuity, between the two. If one contradicts the other, the result is bound to be unfortunate. Today's youth will not march along, suppressing their resentments, simply because they are required to. The reason for this is not far to seek. The culture of our time promotes a taste for the loud, the bold and the assertive. Young people zip along roads in cars bursting with music ear-piercingly loud enough to be heard at a distance.
Even gospel crusades are marked, at times, more for their sound than their sense. Meekness is on a low premium today. We laud and applaud the brash and the bold and resent it only when we are afflicted. The youth of today are less inhibited than their counterparts a generation ago. It is doubtful, however, if this implies greater commitment to truth, as it is assumed to be. That is because, knowing the truth is a 'high taste'. The youth are, surely, more faithful to their own likes and dislikes, which is not quite the same as being committed to the truth, though there could be many meeting points between the two.
At this point we must address a crucial question. It is healthy or even right, to infect our children with tastes contrary to the prevailing tastes of our times, given the fact that they have to live and thrive in this world? Are we doing them a disservice by imbuing them with the norms and tastes of the Kingdom? This might seem a serious dilemma but is in point of act, a spurious one. This dilemma resolves itself when we reckon the purposes to which tastes are oriented. Tastes are not ends-in-themselves. They are shaped by the purposes they sub-serve. The tastes of the world are oriented to worldly goals: instant success and quick prosperity. Are they our goals? Or, are they worthwhile goals? Or goals spiritually legitimate?
The tastes of the Kingdom are oriented not to Mammon, but to honoring God. Dilemmas arise when Kingdom tastes are espoused with worldly intentions. Very likely Jesus implied this too when He said, "You cannot serve God and Mammon." Tastes direct our outlook and actions. Whether it is God or Mammon who dominates our tastes is clear from the ways or methods we adopt. Jesus 3rd temptation (Matthew 4:9-11) illustrates this. Satan urges Him to adopt a satanic method in order, presumably, to fulfill God's purpose! Jesus just has to fall down and worship Satan and the world can be regained for God. Mission accomplished in flash! This is, at best, sanctimonious self-deception. If Jesus had a taste for short-cuts the salvation story would have taken a calamitous turn. To worship Satan in method is to acquire the tastes and goals of Satan. Once that happens, the purpose of God reconciling the world to Himself will become an irrelevant enterprise.
[To be continued in next issue.]
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